BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Arafat Nagi had made an oath to the Islamic State group, outfitted himself to fight and had a one-way ticket to the Middle East at the time of his arrest, federal authorities said Friday.
Nagi’s actions were evidence “of his intent to engage in combat overseas with ISIL,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lynch said, using an acronym for the militant Islamic State group.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh Scott denied bail for the unemployed 44-year-old, who is charged with attempting to support terrorism.
Nagi was arrested Wednesday, two weeks before he was scheduled to make his third trip to Turkey in three years, investigators said, with plans to cross the border into Syria in a bid to join the fighters.
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The Lackawanna man had posted multiple photos of beheadings and severed heads on social media before a 2014 trip, a criminal complaint said, and he pledged allegiance to leaders of the group on Twitter. He’d also bought an array of combat gear online, including body armor, military clothing, a Shahada flag, Islamic headband, stealth face mask, machete, burn kit and night vision goggles, investigators said.
Defense attorney Jeremy Schwartz argued that neither Nagi’s travels nor purchases were illegal and that any Twitter postings, aside from being perhaps “mere rhetoric,” were constitutionally protected.
“Political speech, even very, very unpopular political speech, is still protected under the First Amendment,” Schwartz said.
He said it would be unfair to detain Nagi “for something he hasn’t done.”
“They’re talking about attempts or something he might do in the future,” Schwartz said.
The Islamic State group broke with the al-Qaida network and took control of large parts of Iraq and Syria, where it declared a caliphate, a traditional form of strict Islamic rule. It has released videos showing beheadings of foreign captives, including that of American journalist James Foley, in response to U.S.-led airstrikes. The U.S. Department of State has declared it a foreign terrorist organization.
If convicted of attempting to support such an organization, Nagi could be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Wearing a blue prison jumper and shackles, Nagi said nothing during Friday’s hearing and showed no visible reaction as Lynch described how investigators seized a sword, several combat knives and 10 cellphones and electronic tablets from his home. An assault rifle, Lynch said, had been given to a brother.
“There is no greater threat to this community than this defendant if he is released,” Lynch said.
The prosecutor also cited two previous arrests, including one in which Nagi was accused of threatening to behead his daughter. That led to a harassment violation, Schwartz said, and a $100 fine.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Aug. 12. In the meantime, U.S. Attorney William Hochul said the case would be presented to a grand jury.